A Movie Review
#3096 Created 03/09/2012 Updated 10/10/2019
When is a cliché not a cliché? Can you put a costume on a cliché and transform it, magically, into something new?
Cowboys and Aliens (Universal Pictures, 2011), appropriately starring James Bond and Indiana Jones (Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford), is an example of the Hero's Journey dressed up with flashing lights and animation.
I watched this movie to discover that it succeeds by braiding the characteristic mythology of America's westward expansion (rugged individualism, heroic bravery, fierce savages, corrupt wealth and vengeful greed) into the science fiction mythology of the 20th Century (rugged individualism, heroic bravery, fierce aliens, corrupt wealth and vengeful greed) to produce an all-new, yet ever-the-same Hero's Journey that would fit into Joseph Campbells narratives in a proud, yet bewildering, manner.
Unfortunately, the movie had a serious surplus of roles. There were cowboys and Indians. There were also cowboys and aliens. There were also Indians and aliens, and there were cowgirls who were aliens, but no cowgirls who were Indians. There were no Indians who were aliens, but there were Indians who were cowboys.
Most importantly, there were no aliens who were Indians or cowboys. Clearly, the aliens were the Indians, and the Indians were the cowboys, just like the cowboys.
But the hero's journey is always the hero's journey, going through the hero's journey "summary of steps" in precise order: The call to adventure, the refusal of the call, the supernatural aid, the crossing of the first threshold, the belly of the whale (or jail), the road of trials, the meeting of the Goddess (another damn alien), and so on.
There were a couple of omissions from the hero"s journey, but those parts were tidily portioned out to other supporting roles for safekeeping, such as the atonement with the father, the magic flight, and the master of two worlds.
Not surprisingly, it all worked out in the end. The hero, or heroes, were cowboys or Indians, who struggled against each other, and then with each other, in order to meet the common foe. They defeated the ruthless off-world barons intent on stealing the gold and kidnapping innocent cowboys and their ladyfolk, at least one of which was an alien.
And they got the gold. Way before sunset.